How Important is VMware API integration?

VMware has more APIs for storage than for any of the other hardware in a virtual data center. That's because most storage hardware is poorly matched to the demands of a highly virtual environment. Yup. It's true. The industry has been stitching together storage O/Ses for a long time now, then bolting on every new shiny object that comes along, and it's all gotten pretty messy.

Because of this, VMware has been forced over time to dive deeper and deeper into storage management, in hopes of helping fix the worst bottlenecks and management headaches that conventional storage creates.

Oddly enough, this creates a major perception problem if you happen to sell storage like Oracle’s ZS3 Series that actually works right. I was thinking about how to best explain this, and this television commercial popped into my head.

Okay, it's not exactly what I'm talking about, but it does capture the idea that the world sometimes convinces people like this poor husband (Or the overworked vCenter Admin who doesn't want to think about storage. Or the overworked storage admin who wants VMware to be just another app among many.) that they need stuff when in fact they often don't.

What's that got to do with VMware and Oracle ZFS Storage Appliances? Frankly, everything.

At the highest level, VMware storage APIs are designed to solve several problems, which vary in relevance when it comes to Oracle ZFS Storage Appliances:

  1. Consolidating your management environment. This is a GREAT thing. It's what Oracle does with Oracle Enterprise Manager -- managing both the hardware and software in an Oracle application stack. The ability to "see" everything in one place is sort of a "Holy Grail" for modern IT shops, and there have been precious few products that have ever gotten there (It's one reason OpenStack is so hot right now, but that's a blog for another day). The omnipresence of VMware in modern data centers means that EVERY hardware vendor has to write to their APIs, lest they be left out of the dominant "single pane of glass". We are well on our way to getting the most significant integrations in place ourselves. Oracle ZFS Storage Appliances now have built-in visibility in VMware vCenter for storage provisioning, performance monitoring, utilization and any workflow automation customers wish to use.

  2. Offloading storage-related tasks from the servers to array-based functions. A lot of the actual VMware storage offload APIs are designed as a band-aid for stuff to overcome weaknesses in the underlying storage architecture. For example, ZFS leverages a meta file system that enables rapid copy/snap events that are nearly instantaneous with little consequence, and certainly without the round trip IO to the compute/VM that VAAI was originally invented to “work around”.

    I've spoken to at least one customer who is anxious for the vSphere 6 vVOLs feature release so that he can manage snap retention policy changes without using vMotion to move the volume to a pool with a different retention policy. That's important if you have a limit on the practical number of snaps available, but when you have an architecture like Oracle ZFS Storage, for which there is no known limit to the number of snaps you can take (yes, read that again), such details start to become irrelevant. There's simply no cost to retaining the max number of snaps for every volume (except for needing good scripts to manage all of the snaps, but that's easy enough to automate). Oracle ZFS Storage handles numerous copy events MUCH more effectively than old school systems because of the ZFS file systems’ architecture. Fewer band-aids needed.

    Likewise, when you combine a Solaris kernel that's been doing Symmetric Multiprocessing for more than twenty years with an Adaptive Replacement Cache that keeps your hot data (especially your boot images) in its ample DRAM cache (1000x faster than flash) automatically, you eliminate the need for fine-grained storage management in the first place (Ron Popiel is actually a fraternity brother of mine, so let's hope he doesn't mind this):
    Just Set It and Forget It!! Look here and here for some eye-popping price performance results – for example 16,000 VMs booted in under 7 minutes. Because ZFS was developed as a blank sheet of paper filesystem in the mid-2000s, it takes the best of all these strategies and bring it together in a seamless, non-administratively heavy manner to bring you the best performance without hurting your head.

  3. Helping you to see what is going on with the storage. As we add layer (RAID) upon layer (volume management) upon layer (storage virtualization) upon layer (hypervisor storage management) of virtualization between the server and storage, it further masks what has ALWAYS been the ultimate storage bottleneck: Too many users and apps hitting the same performance-challenged spindles. Products like vCenter Operations aim to make unmanageable environments more manageable by helping you to diagnose where and when this is happening, but in the end, the layers make the whole thing too opaque to diagnose. Because of this, you can spend days searching for tiny, tiny needles in very, very large haystacks.

    But if you have Oracle ZFS Storage Appliance, with its deep-dive VM-level storage analytics, you can find the "noisy neighbor" or corrupted VM in no time at all, and then dissect activity relative to that misbehaving VM by virtually any metric you like.
    Look here for a quick demo. By starting with a high level dashboard that allows you to drill straight to the problem area of need, we make performance interrogation and troubleshooting a painless experience that enables the storage “customer” to get their plop-plop, fizz-fizz, much more quickly. In fact, a recent head-to-head study showed our VM-level analytics made it 73% faster (yes, your read that right - 73% faster!) to analyze and troubleshoot in VM environments than NetApp. (check it out)

The truth is, Oracle has very large VMware installations that simply could not function without Oracle ZFS Storage Appliances. But we unfortunately can't tell you about the best ones, as a lot of these firms are less than anxious to share their trade secrets. They may be kicking your butt with one right now, in fact. But, check out this quote from M&R Printing one of the world’s largest manufacturers of screen printing equipment in this press release.

We'd be more than happy to let you see for yourself, though. If you didn't catch us at VMworld, talk to your Oracle sales representative, or give your local Oracle sales office a call.

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In this blog, we'll track trends in how storage is deployed in modern data centers, and explain how our mighty Oracle ZFS Storage intersects with, and in many cases lays waste to, these trends.

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